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Coffee and Chocolate - Beyond the Bean Part 2

Let's pick up right where we left off...if you missed Part 1, check it out here The Harvest

The harvest and processing of coffee and cacao are also very similar. All of cacao harvesting in the world is still done by hand - either with the use of small machetes or poles with attached metal hooks. The cacao pods are cut from the trunks and branches of the trees. The vast majority of coffee harvesting in the world is done by literally picking the coffee fruit, known as “cherries”, from the branches of the coffee tree. Although some large coffee plantations now employ the use of machines for harvesting, they decidedly do a significantly inferior job than their human counterparts due to the machine’s indiscriminate harvesting regardless of ripeness, and harsh treatment of the coffee tree.

Once the coffee and cacao fruits have been picked, the seeds need to be isolated and dried. Cacao pods are cut open using machetes and the seeds surrounded by the fleshy sweet white pulp are scooped out. The aggregated beans and pulp then ferment between 1-10 days before being dried. Different regional processing methods, cacao varietals, local climatic conditions, and concentration of natural yeasts account for this large variation in fermentation times. The fermentation removes some of the overpowering bitterness and astringency in the beans, and liquefies the pulp which prepares the beans for drying. Coffee cherries can be processed in any number of ways, but one common way is to peel the fruit to reveal the sweeter pulp surrounding the seeds and then ferment the pulp for 12-36 hours prior to drying. Before roasting and grinding the coffee, the outer layer of the bean, known as the “parchment”, needs to be removed. This usually takes place in the producing country right before shipment. Prior to grinding cacao into chocolate, the outer layer of the cacao bean, the “husk” or “shell” as it’s known, is also removed.

Coffee and cacao - both seeds of tropical fruits that are harvested by hand, surrounded by a sweet fleshy pulp that is fermented before drying, roasting, and consuming.

Cacao beans drying under the sun after fermentaiton - Ocobamba, Peru

Coffee beans drying under the sun after fermentaiton - Ocobamba, Peru


Our current method of consuming both coffee and cacao is not the way people consumed them initially. Perhaps the one thing more sensuous than the taste of chocolate (which is essentially sweetened, ground cacao) is the delicious sweet pulp from a fresh cacao pod. Coffee and cacao were most likely initially consumed the way we consumed other fruits such as mangos, avocados, and apples; i.e. the seeds are discarded after the flesh is eaten. Both coffee and cacao have historically been used to create alcoholic beverages from the sweet pulp of their fruits. The leaves of the coffee plant and the dried skins from the coffee fruit were consumed as a beverage, much like tea. The discoveries of both coffee and cacao are steeped in lore. Perhaps we’ll never know when they were first transformed into something resembling their current form.

We do know however, that coffee and cacao drinks were used in religious ceremonies. In the Arabic world, the mystical followers of Islam, known as Sufis, used coffee to increase energy for their all-night ceremonies and enter altered states of consciousness. In Central America, cacao was used in many religious and celestial ceremonies and often evoked psychoactive experiences among those who heavily imbibed. Although precious little information has been retained from the pre-Colombus Americas, we do know that cacao was often consumed in the form of a frothy drink. Not until the 1800s through inventions in the chocolate world by Coenraad Van Houten and others were bars of chocolate mass produced and distributed at low prices. Additionally, sugar, a product of sugarcane which is native to SouthEast Asia was never originally consumed with coffee or chocolate in their origins of Africa or the Americas. Perhaps honey, fruit, or other herbal sweeteners were consumed with coffee and cacao, but much evidence suggests they were drank as strong, bitter beverages.

Coffee and cacao - both originally eaten as fruits, origin of modern method of consumption unknown, traditionally taken as a strong,​ bitter drink.

Mayans pouring chocolate to produce a thick foam from the airation of the cacao butter. Later, European inventions would revolutionize the way cacao was prepared and consumed - first as a beverage and then as a food.

Part 3 will cover the History and Cultivation of Coffee and Chocolate

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